The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, December 18, 2003  

Get That Ombudsman on the Phone!
They Go To Bed Early in the Midwest

So I’m a little irritated by the recent and blatant hypocrisy (See addendum.) displayed by syndicated columnist and second-rate blogger James Lileks, and I decide I might want to drop a line to Lileks’s base, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, home of the world’s proudest Target shopper’s column, “Backfence.”

Hmm . . . Where to send my thoughts?

I know! How about the newspaper’s ombudman? That sounds right.

Experienced web user that I am, I trekked over to the Star Tribune’s web site, which can be found here.

I scanned the sidebar on the left-hand side of the home page and found no listing for “ombudsman.” That’s no surprise, really. I suspected a little hunting would be in order. And so I clicked “contact us.”

Huh. No listing for the Star Tribune’s ombudsman.

Okay, how about trying “Newsroom Staff Directory”?

Nope. Gotta’ have a real last name to work with that. Or at least as much as you know.

Oh, wait, there’s an option for “a complete staff listing.” Let’s try that.

Cool. Everybody’s here. Let’s search the listings for “ombudsman.”

“The text entered was not found.”

Well then, how about “feedback form”?

Wow, lots of stuff. Lots and lots of options here.

Let’s try “other content comments and feedback,” maybe that will get us an actual name. The real name of a real living ombudsman.

Alas, no. Just a routine form to fill out.

I got it! Site map!

Uh, no.

Hmm . . . What to do?

Of course, the consistently reliable Google.

And a Google search of “Star Tribune Minneapolis ombudsman” leads me to none other than one Lou Gelfand.

Hey, Lou, nice to meet you!

Now, wait a second. Where have I heard that name before?

I remember. It was when I searched the Star Tribune’s site for the term “ombudsman,” a search that brought me first to a piece headlined “Too Bad Times Didn’t Have an Ombudsman,” a few random thoughts published back after the oh-way-big-huge-isn’t-this-the-worst controversy surrounding former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines.

In that piece, Gelfand wrote:

I used to call the New York Times switchboard to point out errors of fact, suggesting a correction was in order. There was no listed number to call for corrections.

The operator would send me to the “national desk,” where the response was courteous but unavailing.

Eventually, I gave up.

Now that’s saying something, because at 9:30 p.m., Eastern Time, this very evening, I tried to find a “listed number for corrections” at the Star Tribune and found there was none to be had.

Failing that, I tried to reach someone, anyone, at the Star Tribune, and after going through innumerable hoops to register at the paper’s web site -- entirely too taxing an experience for someone who wants access to what is little more than a second-tier regional -- I got nowhere.

I didn’t give up, though. I persisted. I called every number I could find for the paper and eventually went through the security desk, for crying out loud, twice, trying to reach a real human being, preferably one in the upper ranks of the Star Tribune’s editorial offices, only to be told, twice: “I’m sorry. There’s nobody up there. I know they’ve all gone home for the day.”

At 8:30 p.m. local time? Gee whiz, I know Midwesterners go to bed early and all, but really, a newspaper shuts down at 8:30?

Anyway, Gelfand’s little piece, fascinating and au courant as it might have been at the time, made no mention of his position at the paper, which, I should add, I can’t confirm independently right now since, as I just mentioned, “they’ve all gone home for the day.”

Thus I’m only presuming, based on my Google search, that the Star Tribune actually has an ombudsman on staff and that the ombudsman takes the form of a person known as Lou Gelfand. “So much for personal accountability,” as the altogether unjustifiably sneering Gelfand himself once said.

Gelfand’s job is one I would like. It’s obviously not too demanding. The Star Tribune’s web site indicates its ombudsman’s last article was published in September. No newspaper in the world is that good.

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